Iraqis take Kadhimi’s anti-corruption pledge with a grain of salt

Informed sources say that Kadhimi’s office has created a special detention centre at Baghdad International Airport to complete investigations into officials arrested for their involvement in corruption cases.
Monday 04/01/2021
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi speaks during a meeting with security leaders, in Basra, Iraq August 22, 2020. (AP)
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi speaks during a meeting with security leaders, in Basra, Iraq August 22, 2020. (AP)

BAGHDAD – Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi pledged that 2021 will be “the year of disclosing major truths about corruption.”

In an interview to review the events of the past year and detail plans for the next one, Kadhimi said that “Iraq has not witnessed any development in recent decades. The country’s industry, agriculture, education and health system have rather been destroyed.”

He noted that “the Iraqi economy has become hostage to fluctuating oil prices, in a weak economic environment, hit by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and the spread of corruption.”

“We have established a Committee to Combat Corruption and Exceptional Crimes, and for the first time, senior officials have found themselves in prison, unprotected by party affiliation or the power wielded by some influential people. We will continue on this track and 2021 will be the year of uncovering major truths about the corruption that has affected both the economy and development.”

Kadhimi formed a special committee, headed by a senior officer, to track down and arrest corrupt employees. The commission tried to operate outside the usual routine restrictions that allow the accused to regularise their situation before their arrest.

Informed sources say that Kadhimi’s office has created a special detention centre at Baghdad International Airport to complete investigations into officials arrested for their involvement in corruption cases, including Shaker al-Zamili, head of the Baghdad Investment Commission, Ahmed al-Saadi, director of the General Pension Department and others.

“Our people were deeply affected by the financial crisis, just as the world was affected by the economic crisis exacerbated by the pandemic, but the impact of this crisis on Iraq was more serious … and unfortunately, previous governments did not plan for such a scenario,” Kadhimi said.

A member of the Integrity Committee in the Iraqi Parliament, Jamal al-Muhammadawi, confirmed that “333 officials accused of corruption cases, including twenty (former) ministers, are currently facing trial.”

Muhammadawi’s statement indicates that dynamics are shifting in the country when it comes to the fight against corruption.

Previously, prosecutions were often filed only after accused officials had managed to flee the country and safely transfer out their money, leaving them with extreme wealth and rendering the arrest warrants against them meaningless.

The Iraqi state’s administrative apparatus has two official institutions to combat corruption: The Office of Financial Supervision and the Integrity Commission. The two institutions are assumed to be independent, but they are in fact subject to the government.

There was previously a third institution 00 the Department of the Inspector General — but it was recently shut down after the inspector was accused of covering up for the ministers he was supposed to be monitoring.

In addition to these bodies, there is also the Integrity Committee in the Iraqi Parliament but some of its members have also been accused of extortion.

— Mockery —

None of Iraq’s bodies and agencies have succeeded in putting an end to corruption and Kadhimi admits that the practice has blocked the path to development and prevented the country from recovering.

Many in Iraq see that the supervising agencies’ focus on pursuing non-partisan employees, those affiliated with weak parties or those that do not hold significant power as merely cosmetic and an attempt to quell the public’s anger.

In recent years, talk of fighting corruption has been met with public mockery, with some Iraqis even attacking government officials who they believe to have dishonestly pledged to end the practice.

Kadhimi himself has been a target of public criticism. After his recent interview, he was hit with a wave of attacks on social media.

Qais Khazali, leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, however, has curiously never been targeted by critics when speaking out about corruption.

It has been reported that well-known Iraqi bloggers and social media users who comment with their real names and reside inside the country avoid criticising Khazali for fear of retribution, including possible assasination attempts.

The irony was recently underlined in comments by Iraqi Culture Minister Hassan Nazim, who said he had referred some officials in his ministry to be investigated, without mentioning Laith Khazali, the brother of Qais Khazali.

Laith Khazali was known to use the influence of Asa’ib militia to control much of the culture ministry’s resources in the previous government. Nevertheless, he still controls some of the ministry’s allocations in the current government.

Nazim’s decision to omit Laith Khazali’s name in his remarks is further evidence of the role political parties and Iran-backed militias play in preventing the country’s fight against corruption.

The militias allegedly control different state sectors, such as construction, sea, land and air transport. They are also involved in importing medicine and oil smuggling.

These activities generate millions of dollars for the Iranian militias in Iraq every month, enabling them to cover their enormous expenses.

Many politicians say that the Iraqi government realises that fighting corruption has to begin with containing Iran’s influence in Iraq, which may require the arrest of Nuri al-Maliki, leader of the State of Law coalition, Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organisation, Faleh al-Fayyad, head of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), Qais Khazali, and other Tehran strongmen in Baghdad.